What would you be doing if you weren’t working

Most of us have been socialized to let others decide what we do with our days. We start in kindergarten (or even earlier). They tell us when to have meals, when to listen to a story, and when to take a nap. As we grow up, the limits on our time are even stricter. There is the hour to do math, the hour to write an English paper, the hour to do art. If you go to College, you get a bit of a break. Most students take about 15 credits, which means they are in scheduled classes roughly 15 hours per week. They have some flexibility with the rest of their time, but there is homework to do and books to read. Even social events that College kids feel like they must attend to have a real College experience take away from their ability to make their own choices about their time.


Most people’s jobs have a pretty strict schedule. Even if the job is interesting, it is pretty regimented. I am in meetings an average of about 6 hours a day. Answering email takes probably another three hours. I like my job, but it does dictate how I spend most of my waking hours. Self-employed people often have less of an external schedule imposed on them but for most people, being self-employed still involves working hard every day to make and keep their business successful.

Most people don’t experience the opportunity to truly decide what to do with their time until they retire. It is tough to learn how to make decisions about your time at 65 when the last time you got to make that decision was when you were 5!


I have no desire to retire, but it seems like a good thought experiment to think of what I would do if I did. For me, the most important components of a fulfilling life are having a circle of friends, having challenges, and doing something impactful. I would like to become good at some physical skill. I like ballroom dancing, and I can probably be good at it if I put in the time. It is also a great way to make friends. I would also get a small camper and travel with my lovely wife, child, and all the animals. Traveling and biking around the country would be really fun.

For a challenge, I would start a business based on teaching all kinds of kids useful math skills. I hate how math is taught in US schools. On average, I can do about 80% of my kid’s math HW correctly on the first try (she is now in 6th grade, and my percentage has actually been improving), and I have a Ph.D. in math. If I have to think hard about a problem, my 6th graders shouldn’t be expected to know how to do it. At the same time, many of her classmates still don’t know the multiplication table. There is a lot of help available to kids. For example, Sylvan has a pretty good program, but it is $50 per hour in my area (and I live in a low-cost area). That is not something most families can afford. I want to contribute towards giving all kids the same opportunities for a good education.


It would be kind of terrifying to wake up and not to have the schedule my employer has predetermined for me. And it is kind of sad that I don’t have the skills to do my own thing. I’d like to think I would figure out how to live my life without being told which meeting to go to next, and I won’t spend my days eating potato chips in front of the TV, but it would be a challenge.
What would you do if your schedule wasn’t determined by your employer or by the need to make money? Are you looking forward to such a time?

Homemade “Meat”, “Cheese”, and Bread and how much do they cost

Artwork by The Child

I just finished eating a delicious “meat” and “cheese” sandwich on homemade bread and I thought I should share some amazingly easy recipes together with a comparison of the cost to make them at home verses buying equivalent products. Although the savings are significant, I mostly cook because I enjoy the magic of creating food (who knew you can make “meat” in your kitchen with just a few minutes of labor), and I like having control over the ingredients I use. Buying in bulk and cooking from scratch also reduces waste from packaging.

We are mostly vegan, hence the quotes above, but I am still pretty traditional and like a good “meat” and “cheese” sandwich once in a while. Bread is one of the easiest things to make and it is well worth making it at home to avoid all the preservatives added to store-bought breads. Plus it makes your house smell great.

I don’t remember where I got my bread recipe so I can’t give proper credit, sorry.

Bread

(This recipe is very forgiving. Even though I give exact measurements, I only measure the flour and the water and I am not very careful with those.)

Dry Ingredients
4 cups white flour
(can replace 1 cup with whole
wheat)
2.5 teaspoons yeast
1.5 teaspoons salt
Wet Ingredients
2 Tablespoons oil
1 3/4 cup warm water

In a big bowl mix together the dry ingredients. Then add the wet ingredients. Mix and knead for a couple of minutes. Add more flour if needed. Let the dough sit in the bowl covered with a damp towel for about 2 hours. It will double in size. I make two loaves out of it. After forming the loaves, give them another hour to raise and bake at 350 F until golden brown. Let cool before cutting.

Cost for two loaves using mostly organic ingredients with links to Amazon:

4 cups organic white flour = 18 oz =$1.62
2.5 teaspoons yeast = 0.25 oz = $0.20
2 Tablespoons oil = 1 fl oz = $0.05
Salt, water, and electricity for baking = a few cents
TOTAL: Less than $1.00 per loaf

Comparable bread at the store is about $3.00-$4.00 per loaf. You can have added fun by putting rosemary, oregano, or suflower seeds in the dough. Unfortunately the child does not like anything added to her bread so we make it plain.

Cheese

This recipe is a mild modification of Lessarella cheez by GoDairyFree. The original recipe is probably better but it requires lemons and I often don’t have those around. Prices quoted for mostly organic ingredients with links to Amazon.

2 cups water (free)
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar (1 fl oz, $0.18)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast (8 Tbsp or $1.50)
1/3 cup quick oats ground to a powder ($0.20)
1/4 cup cornstarch (optional, makes cheese extra solid) ($0.35)
1 Tbsp onion powder ($0.25)
1/4 cup tahini ($0.86)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

TOTAL cost: $3.34

Put all ingredients in a food processor (or use a submersible blender), blend until smooth (less than a minute) and then cook until thick (about 10 min). While cooking you really must stir THE WHOLE TIME. Freezes well. Great on sandwiches, pizza, quesadillas, and as dipping sauce for vegetables.

This “cheese” doesn’t really have a store bought equivalent but it fulfills all of our family’s cheese-needs for the week which used to take 3-4 packages of Dayia at $4.50 a bag and it is much less processed.

“Meat”

I don’t know why but it took me years to discover how easy it is to make seitan at home. This recipe is a modification of Seitan with Chickpea Flour from One Green Planet. Again, the original recipe is probably better but this has fewer ingredients so it is faster and cheaper.

Dry Ingredients
2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon onion powder
Wet Ingredients
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 cups hot water

Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl. Separately, mix all the wet ingredients. Add the wet to the dry, mix, and kneed for 3-4 min. Add extra wheat gluten if needed. Let rest for 15 min covered with a towel. I usually form two “loaves” and I like to make them kind of long and thin (helps with cutting later). Put in a pot mostly covered with water with some soy sauce and boil for 1.5 hours. They will at least double in size so make sure they have enough space to do that. You may have to top off the water occasionally and you might want to flip the loaves half way through but they will be fine if you forget. You can also boil them in vegetable broth but I never do.

Cost for two loaves of seitan using mostly organic ingredients with links to Amazon:

2 cups vital wheat gluten ($1.95)
1/2 cup chickpea flour ($0.72)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast ($1.50)
1 Tbsp dried basil ($0.25)
1 teaspoon cumin ($0.25)
1 Tbsp onion powder ($0.25)
1 Tbsp ketchup ($0.25)
1/3 cup soy sauce ($0.60)

TOTAL: $5.77

You can add seitan slices to any meal or salad. We also eat it just as a snack thinly sliced. Store-bought seitan in about $4.00 for an 8 oz package in my area. I don’t have a scale but I think the recipe above makes at least 2 lb so that is about $16 if you bought it pre-made. Plus, it is really fun to make!

October Spending

It is the middle of November, and I am just now posting our October spending. The election occupied all my discretionary time-to-think, and I just didn’t have the bandwidth to compute our numbers for October. But I am quite happy with the final results, and now I can get back to managing the household budget:0)

October was another month with pretty low spending – $2327. Interesting fact: this corresponds to about $28,000 per year. As we don’t include our property taxes in the monthly summary, adding them back in gives us $34,000 per year, which is really low -156% of the federal poverty line.


There is nothing particularly interesting in our October spending. It turns out that when nothing special comes up during the month, we can pretty easily keep our spending at about that level. However, November and December will be expensive months. We have several things coming up, including some large pet expenses, some fairly large car expenses, and some large donations.
Our food expenses have settled to between $700 and $800 a month for the last few months and, given that almost everything we eat is organic, I think this is pretty good. We are continuing not to buy processed food, so I am doing quite a lot of cooking.

A popular “rule” for proper budgeting is the 50/30/20 rule. According to this rule, you should spend 50% of your income on essential like rent and food, 30% on discretionary spending, and 20% should go to savings. We don’t follow this rule, and I don’t like it. Let’s start with essentials – by the definition of “essential,” there actually shouldn’t be much flexibility here. You need a place to live, but if you choose for your family of three to live in a five bedroom house (we do this, it is just how it worked out, it is not smart), some of that expense is discretionary. You also need food, but if you choose to pay for all organic, that is also discretionary. Thinking of your rent and food expenses as essential prevents you from seeing your actual choices.


Once you figure out your actual “essential” expenses, the rest of your money is all discretionary. You have two choices for the money. You can spend it on stuff, or you can save it and essentially buy time. If you save about 65% of your take-home pay, you can retire in about 10 years starting from zero. So once the essentials are covered, you get to decide how you want to prioritize spending vs. savings to optimize your happiness. I think if we moved to a smaller house, stopped buying organic, went to one car, and didn’t spend money on child activities, we can probably get to under $2000 a month. But that would be a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice. I think we have our discretionary spending vs. savings optimized to just about the right level at the moment, although moving to a smaller house is still on my to-do list for sometime after the pandemic.

No Netflix November

No Snacks September was a fun challenge which led our family to adopt new eating habits. I thought November offered an interesting opportunity to explore life without Netflix. Maybe this will be another change we will decide to permanently embrace…

Netlfix for me is a lot like junk food. I spend a lot of time on Netflix to relax – it is essentially junk screen time. Given that my job requires me to be on the screen for probably 10 hours per day, I really don’t need any additional screen time. There are also many other screen activities that are more productive and more fun like writing this blog.

The average Netflix subscriber spends 1hr and 11 min per day on Netflix but only 35 min bonding with their family. I am afraid my stats are even worse than the average. Maybe No Netflix November will help me be a better wife and mother…

The Child does not approve of No Netflix November. For this reason, she has declined my invitation to provide art for this post. I am glad she has clear opinions and refuses to participate in activities that go against her believes:0)